Supporting the Father: Podcast Episode #193
Kristin Revere chats with Joel Austin of Daddy University Inc and Doulos4Dads about the importance of supporting the father during the transition of becoming a father. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello! This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas. I am so excited to chat with Joel Austin today. Joel is a certified postpartum doula or doulo, as he says. He’s also the founder of Doulos4Dads and is the president and CEO of Daddy University Inc. Welcome, Joel!
Joel: Thank you, Kristin! It is wonderful. You have such a great personality.
Kristin: Oh, well, thank you! I feel the same way about you. So for our listeners, I first heard Joel speak at a newborn care specialist conference in Arizona about the topic of supporting partners and the father’s role, and I had to ask Joel to be on the podcast. So I’m glad you could make it, and I love everything you’re doing in the space of supporting fathers. I feel like fathers get left behind and forgotten, especially in the early pregnancy phase. It’s all about the mother. Then the father is almost an afterthought. But there’s so much responsibility that dads have and so much impact they can make. I’m excited to hear your thoughts. Your quote on your website is just perfect. I’ll read it, if you don’t mind. You said none of us are raising children or kids or babies. Instead, all of us are raising someone’s father, someone’s mother, someone’s wife, and someone’s husband. That is huge to think about, the responsibility we have. You can change the world with our impact. So how did you get started in this journey? I mean, it’s been quite some time with Daddy University. You’re the first of its type to really focus on supporting the father with education and so many resources.
Joel: I got started after we had my first son. I had my first son, and it was, of course, a miracle. I’ve never witnessed anything like that before. And I was into it. I wanted to be better. And I wanted to kind of be that generational shift, what we used to not do. So I went to all the appointments, and I was learning kind of on the go. And then I had my second son somewhere around four years later, and then my first son got invited to a Big Brothers Big Sisters class at the hospital, and I realized while he was in this class, they were teaching him how to be a good big brother, and they were teaching them about bottles and what you can do to help your parents. And I found myself taking notes. I found myself driving home saying, I’m the only one that has not had a class. My four or five year old is now educated in taking care of an infant, and I’m not. That’s how Daddy University got started, which is, this is wrong. I need to know more. And we do work with fathers and we do work with partners, but it really is surrounding maternal health and to be more supportive and for everybody to have this amazing birth. Not that the pain goes away, but just to have the better story and for the whole family to have a great outcome and story. So eventually I started attending maternal health workshops and understanding maternal health and then understanding some of the really negative numbers. But when I heard about some of the causes of the numbers, I started to feel responsible because I realized that when she wanted fast food, when she wanted a hamburger and fries and I got it for her, and I got what she craved and what she wanted, and now I got into maternal health and started to understand, and now I understand that’s associated with preeclampsia. I didn’t know these words. That high sodium diet is unhealthy. And I realized – I wonder if more guys knew this, then maybe we could balance out a hamburger and then also have some sliced apples. I wonder if we could do more to help. And I became a doula, and I started Doulos4Dads, and we specifically work with couples. We explain to mom, we are qualified to work with mom, and then we also let dad do a majority of the work. The majority of the work. And it’s been a great ride, and I love my job.
Kristin: I know you had talked about even expanding your presence over time at the conference, so that’s exciting to know that there will be more doulos out there. I’ve been to some doula conferences in the past, and I met some male doulas. There are very few of them out there, and they happen to be birth doulas, not postpartum. And some of them call themselves dude-ala. I much prefer doulo, and your origin story of that. So you are basically hired by the couple early in pregnancy; is that correct? I know postpartum is part of that process, but how do they begin getting support from you?
Joel: We come in somewhere around the third trimester to form a relationship, to form a bond. We have certain criterias. We do birth plan, and we kind of write dad into the birth plan. When I say write him in, I mean – Kristin, if I had it my way, if I had this magic wand, if I was able to make a dream come true, I would actually have my mothers pretty much focus on birthing a child. Not groceries, not laundry, not the sale of the week, not the car, not driving. It would be wonderful if we could surround her with so much support that a lot of her attention was on birth and what she and only she can do. I know that’s far off, but that’s pretty much what we’re working towards. So we start working with the couple, and we literally put dad in charge of the birth. It sounds a little crazy because people are like, dad in charge of the birth? But no, he’s in charge of water, making sure there’s water. He’s in charge of nutrition. He’s in charge of OB-GYN visits or any other type of visits. He’s in charge of trying to make sure she can rest. I don’t care which way or which pillow is best for her. He’s in charge of making sure that her mother doesn’t call her 22 times a day. Or her mother-in-law. He’s the security for the aunt that still wants to hang around and cough. He has these tasks. He has the ability to come home, and then he has the ability to relax for a little bit, and then he is involved in what we call the housework. And some of that is meal planning. Some of that is making sure he knows how to do some of the things that can relieve pain from her; back rubs, a bath. Wonderful gift, and a bath is a wonderful gift. It doesn’t cost much. It always fits. There’s never a time. And then there’s also rest and checking up. Checking up is a really good way of supporting and letting other people know that you care. And all I can say is putting him in charge as much as we can of the surrounding, what surrounds her in this 24-hour day. And that has to be more beneficial than, unfortunately, some of the numbers in some of the issues that we get right now.
Kristin: Yeah, it is definitely important for dads to be engaged and understand what’s going on and understand their role to help advocate because I know with my own birth, even having doulas the second time around, there were points in my labor where I couldn’t really make decisions and follow my birth plan, which is so – my husband was there to speak for me, and because of the education he had, attending childbirth classes and being engaged, he was able to take that role and then knew that the doulas had his back. But I still wanted him as my primary support.
Joel: I spoke to one of my dads one time, and I said there are probably a hundred or more people probably working in this hospital, but there’s only one person in this hospital that knows her well, and that’s you. The difference, whether she likes red ice or blue ice or which food; she will not sleep on that side, she sleeps on that side. You’re allowed to bring things in the hospital. You can have – you’re allowed to bring in a blanket from home. You’re allowed to bring in those old pajamas that she really loves so much. You may hate them, but you at least know where they are and how much she likes them and how much it makes her comfortable. I also, from the beginning, fully explain to my new dads and partners and people who are together and say that whatever she’s going through, your new child is going through, and that’s a really strong statement that – and it helps them through arguments. It helps them through disagreements. It helps them to communicate better because he starts to remember if she’s feeling this stressful way, your new baby is feeling that stressful way. And it brings them to a more comfortable comfort level, and he understands more. And we have to do a better job as doulas in helping them understand the effects, what mom eats and does and says has on our new infants.
Kristin: Exactly. And whether an induction may happy, like how healthy the end of the pregnancy is going to be, so I love that you do get involved in that final trimester versus like many postpartum doulas, you may have an interview, but then you begin once baby’s born. But you’re establishing this connection and a plan, again engaging the partner in the birth and having a very active role and really getting the confidence up. I find not only as a doula but also as a childbirth educator, the dads often have fears of their own that they need to address. I teach a comfort measures class, and there’s a communication component right at the start of class to make sure that they’re on the same page and see how the partner feels about birth, if they have any fears, what they think their ideal role is and support, whether it’s the handholding or physical or all of it. Like, how comfortable they are. So a discussion can be had, and I often find that couples never talked about it until it was brought up in class.
Joel: We also teach them to be empathetic and sympathetic and compassionate to each other, which means that you should complement the person you’re with at least three times a day. And trust me, there’s something – I don’t know if it’s taking out the trash or brushing your teeth, but during this time, and everyone knows babies are miracles and angels and joys, but they can be very – well, let’s just say they can be a little disruptive.
Kristin: Especially with the lack of sleep. In pregnancy, you know, it’s hard for the mother to sleep during that final trimester. It’s just uncomfortable, and then after baby’s born, then you’re dealing with constant feedings and wakings and the partner can certainly have an active role in helping with that. I know that’s a big focus for you is getting them involved and engaged and confident about their role as a father.
Joel: I’m so glad you brought me on the show because their role is not to overtake anything. Their role is not to specifically take charge and overthrow anything. Their role is understand, and us as doulas and even newborn care specialists, it’s our job to let them know what’s going to happen, what could happen, and how you can be a benefit to it. I teach the – there’s something that we do called a hip press, a hip squeeze. I am there sometimes three to four hours in a day making sure the house is kind of back to settled and normality, but that’s four hours out of day, and kind of like I said at the conference, there’s 20 hours left. So once he comes in, we have a chat. We talk about if – we talk about signs. If she starts to move on the couch a certain way and starts to rub the bottom of her stomach a certain way, those are signs. And this is something – this is brand new for me. I call it the dance. And I teach my moms to say to dad, I want to dance. And then I teach my dads some of these signs so that he can say to her, do you want to dance. So the dance, you put on some music. You put on a nice, slow song. She stands up, of course, and you wrap your hands around her from the back, and then you cup the lower pelvis of her stomach. You lift it up and relieve some of the pressure, but then you kind of sway back and forth. And you do this dance, and it’s a little bit more intimate. It’s a little more cortisone. It’s a little bit more oxytocin.
Kristin: Yeah, all about the oxytocin, for sure.
Joel: Oh, that oxytocin is beautiful. And it’s better than the uncomfortable feeling and the negative conversations, and sometimes even if you’re fussing at each other, you should say, do you want to dance, because some of my moms are not – and you know this – are not best communicators during that time. You just need to dance, and after you relieve a lot of pressure for maybe 20 minutes or 30 minutes, whatever it takes, you’ll find a totally different person. And kind of read these signs. Tell him you want to dance, and for him to be taught how to read the signs of when she needs to dance. And that’s just one thing.
Kristin: I love it, yes. And certainly – I mean, even just like you said, like the hip squeezes and some of that physical support, I find that partners are –
Joel: He goes to the gym, and why are we squeezing all day? He’s –
Kristin: Right, I take turns and teach partners how to do the hip squeezes, and they love to – I find that most of the time, dads and partners like to have a role. So they like to be given tasks, again, like giving water, having them get up and move around, trying different positions. It makes them feel less nervous about all of the uncertainties of labor, and even in early parenting, having some tasks, like dads tend to be really good swaddlers. They can get a tight swaddle.
Joel: It’s a football. It’s a football in a blanket.
Kristin: Exactly. Changing diapers. Knowing, okay, this is my role. I’m making sure the water is filled, getting the snack station set, knowing that you’ve got some solid ways to make a difference.
Joel: And we also teach chest feeding, which is – of course, we try to promote breastfeeding, and if there is milk left over, you can take turns. You know, of course, with mom, if she’s not nursing at the moment, you can take turns. You can go in for snacks, and you can – we teach, of course, skin on skin. The other thing about dads is that they are on a blind date. They’ve been set up on a blind date by the moms. The moms know this guy. The moms have been talking to this guy. They know all this stuff. And the first time we actually get to see them and relate to them is at delivery. So we’re kind of catching up, and we’ve heard about you. You’re a friend of hers, but I’ve never met you before. So we try to get them to do a lot of these skin to skin and rocking and listen to some music, definitely getting the child out of the bassinet and bringing it to mom if they can. These little tidbits that make you feel super important, that you’re really involved and doing something. And we don’t forget as couples.
Kristin: Yeah, women, we don’t forget things. So just remembering all the help in the middle of the nights, the snacks, the support. And feeling connected as a couple, and even having, again, your trainings in teaching the father or partner how to identify signs of perinatal mood disorders and what is normal with the baby blues and what isn’t normal, and any other postpartum conditions to look out for. Eclampsia and headaches and blood pressure issues, like signs that things are not right with mom or baby, and it’s time to call the doctor.
Joel: Yes, and again, we talked about the hours, 24 hours in a day. There are some things that he knows that we really need to try to do our best to befriend him so that he can let us know some of these inside secrets. I’ll say it, that all of our mothers don’t tell us everything that’s going on because there’s a certain fear that they have, as well. So if there is – if her side has been hurting sometimes for two or three days, sometimes she may not have told us that. But she has been telling him, so we need all of the information possible to better care for her so that by the time we see her, we say, hey, I’ve heard this, and I heard there was blood in the toilet. I mean, we need to know – we need to know. Have your partner educated on what these possible things could be; it keeps them from freaking out. We’ve also learned that dads that don’t know a lot freak out, and then the person that they freak out the most is the person closest to them.
Kristin: Absolutely, yeah. That doesn’t help the situation. Then the baby can sense that. The baby is upset and doesn’t sleep, cries more. It just keeps getting more intense. I love your tips and the trainings you provide, both in Daddy University and also with getting more male doulas on your team. So I think one thing that’s important to address is the dad’s mental health. Of course, we’re looking out for the mother and how she’s doing mentally, but dads can also get postpartum depression or anxiety in their new role, and PTSD, if they’ve experienced a traumatic birth as the partner and don’t have anyone to talk to, whether it’s a therapist or their doula. That can end up building up and cause problems in parenting and their marriage.
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Joel: You’re absolutely correct. It’s one in four. Right now, they say one in four of our mothers can get what we call postpartum depression or baby blues, and it’s one in ten in our partners and our dads. So it has to be something we look out for. It is a change in attitude, and it’s not always something hidden behind it. A lot of times, we need to ask the same questions of what’s been going on, how come you don’t want to hold the baby, as we do sometimes our moms. And dads also go through nesting. They go through chemical changes and hormonal changes once they find out they’re a dad, and they go through nesting. And it’s so weird.
Kristin: Much different than our nesting.
Joel: Well, yeah. Moms do a lot of internal nesting, which is they’ll make sure that the inside of the house is perfect for the new visitor, and then dads do a lot of outside of the house, which could result in finances or new car or getting a roof put on. It can be weird stuff. Like, I finally got the steps fixed. They may want to move; they think about safety. And we joked at the conference, like, there’s a Ring alarm on everything, just to make sure some of these outside things –
Kristin: And like you said, the mom is just like, well, I need all of these meals prepped. I need help getting groceries and you’re fixing the step. But really, in the thought process, it could avoid tripping. It’s helping the baby to stay safe. So I totally get the difference in the need to clean and organize.
Joel: You have to do the balance.
Kristin: Yeah, like fixing things that the dad is focused on.
Joel: And we have to balance. We have to tell mom, this is your weekend. Whatever nesting you need done, put together, or situated or moved, this is your weekend, and next weekend, we’re going to have to let him pour concrete and make sure no one will trip because the concrete is now flat. You have to balance that, knowing that he has to nest, and you can’t keep him from nesting. So one week or this day has to be his, and this day has to be yours, and we’ll get through this together.
Kristin: Great plan. What is your number one online recommendation for dads in Daddy University? If they were to only be able to do one thing in preparation, where would you send them?
Joel: One thing preparation wise. I would sent them to our website. It has a slough of information. I also love telling them that they got this, that they have this, because there’s a lot of nervousness, that the child is 50% already just like you. 50% of your chromosomes and stuff. So don’t think you have to remake the world. They already kind of giggle the same way you giggle, you know? And then remember – you know, you got this. Calm down, because I said this before. Poop and pee does not care which way the diaper is on. It’s going to come out anyway. So calm down. You’ll get it right. And don’t take it so seriously. Have fun with this. This baby is a beautiful thing. Have fun. Giggle as much as you can.
Kristin: That’s great advice because sometimes dads don’t bond until baby is more active where they feel like a personality has developed, but those early moments are so important. I really love all of the encouragement you give.
Joel: We’ve also found out that if you talk to – this looks weird and sounds weird, but if you actually talk to the stomach, the baby can pick up your voice vibrations, and then once the baby actually comes out, that newborn comes out, it can recognize the vibrations in your voice.
Kristin: Yes, whether it’s singing, reading, talking. Yeah, connecting with the belly. Yes, I love all of that, and even doing some kick counts and just making sure that you can feel movement and help identify in that final trimester that baby is moving around enough. There’s so much that the dad can do to be really actively involved. Certain childbirth classes have some evening practices so the dad is very involved in HypnoBirthing and relaxion exercises and tracks you listen to. So it’s a great way to connect with baby and just, again, be supportive and understand how she wants to birth her baby.
Joel: And hopefully we also will have a much better birthing story. We’ll sit back by the fire and talk about, remember when – and it will be a joyous story.
Kristin: Yeah, that’s what it’s all about, and I find that dads resist doulas initially. They often don’t want to be replaced. They may be concerned about budgets during this time when so many expenses come up. Are you finding as a male doula that dads get on board earlier or easier than, say, female doulas experience with that replacement fear?
Joel: That is an interesting question because with my mothers, my new mothers, I am a doulo. For my dads, I am a coach. And they really like sports. I’m only here to coach, and I absolutely work for them. So I do find that initially, they are the ones – because, again, their body changes too. There’s cortisone and testosterone and hormone changes, too. So they start to become very protective of mom and the new baby, just like a lion in the jungle. So our job is to come in and say how much we are of aid, how much we are of help, how much – you know, I start asking him what are his goals. What kind of birth does he want to have and see? And the usual answer is, I want her to not have any pain. And I’m like, well, okay, I can’t promise that one. But we can make sure that we can do some other things, that she’s comforted as much as possible. And when they start to find out that you’re maybe on their side and that you pull them in – and pulling somebody in and saying, I want you to do it now, it’s an act of trust. Also as doulas, we’re very nonjudgmental. We never say, oh, that hip squeeze is such and such. Mom, is that feeling better; mom says no, and then we say, dad, you’re going to have to – mom will tell you.
Kristin: If you need to move a little lower or – yes. Find the right spot and the firmness.
Joel: Exactly. And then again, yeah, you have that almost exhilaration of when you have your son or daughter or whoever does something right for the right time, and they run to you and say, mom, I got it right. And they are the same way. Once they get that one thing right, they catch fire, and they’re really supportive for us. Very supportive. They’re looking for us when we walk in the door.
Kristin: That’s great. Any final words of advice for dads?
Joel: For my dads, contact us any time for any reason. We’re easy to find. Daddy University. Have fun with this. Understand that she needs you, and understand that this baby needs you, and that without your support and nurturing, you may not have the best story you want. So you are extremely needed in this. And for my moms, please be compassionate. If you’re not sure how to say it, then write it. And then compliment each other. If you – even if something happens, just say, I’m glad you breastfed. Just compliment each other. I’m glad you chose these diapers instead of the other ones. Find a reason to compliment each other throughout the process.
Kristin: Yes, that’s excellent advice. And so as far as finding you, you mentioned your website. I know you’re pretty active on social media, as well. So how else can our listeners connect with you?
Joel: They can find us on Facebook at Daddy University Incorporated. They can find us on Instagram at Daddy University Incorporated. And even Twitter at Daddy Univ. We often have events. We also have information. We also share videos. And now we’re going to be part of Gold Coast, which is exciting. And we’re easy to contact. We’re at daddyuniv.com.
Kristin: Excellent. And certainly as far as in person doulo support, where can our listeners connect with you regionally?
Joel: They can find us on our website. As soon as you hit the contact page, we get an email, and we reach right back out. You let us know what you’re looking for and what you want, and we will be there. I’m available to speak. Love it. I love talking. And we’re coming out with a brand new training, and I think I’m going to sent it to your first.
Kristin: I’d love to see it!
Joel: Yes, our paternal health training for newborn care specialists and nannies and doulas; understanding how paternal health assists maternal health.
Kristin: Beautiful. I am all about that, so definitely send it our way. Thank you very much for sharing all of your wisdom and tips for dads. You are the best, Joel.
Joel: Thank you so much. I appreciate you. You are an avenger.
Kristin: I try! Thank you, and take care!
Joel: Have a great day!
Kristin: You too!
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